2011: Year of the Elmer?

Here’s another thought-provoking article from Mike, W2JMZ. Think you can find someone to Elmer in 2011? Should we really strive to get to the one million mark, or is quality better than quantity?



2011: Year of the Elmer?

By Mike Zydiak, W2JMZ

If it hasn’t happened already, there will soon be more than 700,000 licensed radio amateurs in the U.S. While that may seem an impressive number, we really need to hit the one million mark to ensure the future of our hobby and to prevent commercial interests from stealing our frequencies. That number will give amateur radio the serious political juice required to impress our elected officials and the agencies which regulate and/or have some effect upon our ham radio activities.

So, how are we going to recruit 300,000 brand new hams? By making the effort to do so. I hereby declare that 2011 be designated the “Year of the Elmer.” Furthermore, I am going to declare that it is the responsibility of each and every able-bodied amateur radio operator to bring at least one new ham into the fold so that the new license statistics for the year 2012 are blown off of the chart.

Unfortunately, we can’t all be Elmers:

  • Silent Keys (SKs). Every month, QST lists between 150 and 250 deceased hams–also known as “Silent Keys”–and unfortunately, not all SKs are listed there. In all, I estimate that 5,000 licensees become SKs each year.
  • Other elderly hams. We also know that there are many elderly hams who are no longer active for one reason or another. I would guess that there may be up to 40,000 hams who are no longer physically able to get on the air or live somewhere where they cannot set up a station or put up an antenna.
  • Those who have lost interest. There are also many hams out there who once embraced the hobby, but who have since lost interest. Their names appear in the FCC database, but they are hams in name only. They will disappear as soon as their license expires. A conservative estimate of the number of hams in this category is 75,000.
  • Hams in name only. There are many hams who renew their licenses whenever they expire, but as a result of circumstance, are not really active at all. There may be up to 100,000 hams who are just too busy taking care of kids, serving in the military, going to school, or simply making ends meet to be active.
  • Newcomers. I would guess that there are perhaps 25,000 hams who need a little more seasoning, i.e. experience, before they can become effective Elmers.
  • Those we don’t want to be Elmers. Here, I’m referring to those nasty, mean, unsociable, and perhaps even criminally-inclined, hams who we don’t want to come anywhere near a newbie. I’ll guess that there are 35,000 in this category.

If you add up those numbers, you get 280,000, and if you subtract that from 700,000, we are left with perhaps 420,000 or so amateur radio operators who are currently active to some degree. Recognizing that not everyone of those 420,000 will want to Elmer someone or be able to Elmer someone, I’m going to be optimistic here and say that out of those 420,000 active hams, we can get 250,000 Elmers, and if each one of those 250,000 Elmers recruits just one new ham in 2011, we’ll be awfully close to the magic number of 1 million.

Now will everybody stop laughing so hard and think about this seriously for just a moment. I’m not kidding here… this is really doable.

It could be one of your friends that sees your shack for the very first time, and is totally mesmerized by the toys and what you can do with them. It could be one of your own kids, or one of their friends, both of whom really really need to be distracted from their Nintendos, the trashier parts of the Web, texting their buds day and night, or hanging out with who knows who at who knows where.

It could be any number of those inquisitive people who wander over at Field Day, or at some public place where you are set up, or who might simply stop by unannounced at your next ham club meeting. These are folks that are easy to entice into the hobby, if only someone remembers to get their name, address, phone number and email address, and then carefully follows up a few days later.

For me, it’s the people I work with that are searching for some serious wholesome activities to do with their children. This month, I am helping one of the men that works for me and his thirteen-year-old son get their Technician licenses. With any luck, I’ll have two new hams to my credit by the end of summer.

There are many opportunities out there. You just have to recognize them. For example, one of my very close friends is a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader. He occasionally wakes me up way too early on a Saturday morning to participate in some sort of hike in the area. I’ve promised my friend that this season I’m going to put together a few pounds of QRP in a knapsack, and with a lot of very impressionable onlookers, I’m going to make some four watt HF CW contacts out in the middle of nowhere. As I’ll have an eager bunch of strong healthy kids with lots of woodcraft under their belts, I won’t even have to do very much to get things set up, or to work very hard at all to string up the antenna in and over the trees.

Remember, all I’m asking is that each one of you gets just one spouse, friend, neighbor, or colleague interested in ham radio.

If any of you are graphically inclined, perhaps you could design a really slick “Elmer Patch” with a space for a pin that would indicate the number of new hams that the wearer has responsible for. I would be more than glad to arrange to get the patches and pins made, and then distributed at cost through the clubs. Sort of like an Elmer Honor Roll.

This really is doable. WATSA, OMs?


  1. Couldn’t agree more. Personal contact is vital.

    I’ve been involved helping give a ham radio licensing class in the past. The goal was seen as getting people licensed, and to the extent that happened we saw ourselves as “successful”. Unfortunately, many of the new licensees were never seen again, and I’m not sure that qualifies as success.

    My latest thoughts: our goal should not be simply licenses, but active hams, as measured by membership in a local ham organization (ARES, local club, etc.) We should have the mentoring set up first, before the licensing class, assign students a mentor as they sign up, and follow up as the students get their tickets.

    The idea of getting contact info from visitors and following up with a personal contact is an excellent one. An example from my employment in retail sales: I am expected to promptly greet everyone that comes within 10 feet of me, by name when possible. This is important enough that my employer tests it using secret shoppers.

    Another example: many churches have assigned greeters. Their job is to make newcomers feel welcome.

    Personal contact is what is going to grow our hobby. We can’t count on the ARRL, the local club, or the “testing guys”.

  2. Dan,

    I can tell you my experience as a new ham was one of persistence. I got my ticket on June 21st of this year (yeah, I’m that new!) and I’ve been enjoying looking at all the things that I can do with the hobby thus far. Our local club has many Elmer’s listed on the club website and there seems to be a good deal of information. However, like a child of the 80’s I got kinda lost in all of it and it was hard to find someone to walk me through getting my ticket. I’m pretty good on the internet so I got on and went to ARRL and plugged away until I actually got my ticket.

    I love electronics and working with my hands so I like to think that I’ll build a QRP radio this year and maybe even a couple of homebrew antenna. I have a dream of my back yard shed becoming somewhat of a laboratory for my radio experiments!

    From my perspective the most valuable help I got was going to our Portland HRO and talking to the hams down there. I looked in our library, but only found one book. The club website was very helpful but I don’t know any hams (except my grandfather who is an SK for 4 years now). I visited the site maybe twice or three times a week to look for new updates. The retail environment was the only place I could think of to meet someone face to face and ask for help.

    I’m excited about the hobby. I think that alot of guys and gals my age would be too if they knew a little more and got to see a little more. I was lucky to have a grandfather who was a ham and I just delayed getting my license because of life.

    Now I’m on the road to getting my station set up. Of course I’ve made all the mistakes it seems as I read the different websites (bought an HT right out of the gate, studied for the ticket but haven’t learn much more than that, don’t have any contacts at our local club). but I’m persistent and I’ll get there eventually.

    What would have been most helpful to me? I think I would have liked to have put my name on our club website or signed up to have and Elmer talk to me about the hobby. Sure there were e-mail lists on the club site but how many people do you know who could write and e-mail that says;

    “You don’t know me and I’m e-mailing you out of the blue, but I’d like to know more about your hobby but I don’t know where to start. I’m not super gung-ho! but I’d like to learn. Are you willing to stick with me and teach me what I need to know to get my ticket and start enjoying a cool hobby and maybe even give some service to the community?”

    That would be a hard thing to do for most people in this day and age. So, I’m hoping that as I get involved with our local club I can bring some of my “newbie” experience to help pump up our numbers. Not necessarily for the political capital but for the love of the hobby.

    Hope that’s an interesting view on my experiences and it helps others.

  3. “Hams in name only. There are many hams who renew their licenses whenever they expire, but as a result of circumstance, are not really active at all.”

    This is true in my case. I have the desire and skill, but neither the time or money right now. Economically I’m keeping my head above water, barely. Timewise there is family, job, school, and health concerns that are priorities that keep me from operating. I imagine many non-active hams are in these circumstances. Short of a financial windfall, I doubt this situation will change in the near future.

  4. My wife, I am happy to say passed her Tech exam and uses her mobile radio and any HT I have laying around way more than even I thought she would, so I consider that a success. Also one of my friends passed tech and general the same day at the Ann Arbor VE session in the red cross building.
    My wife tried to study about 15 or 20 years ago and just was not getting it, so we gave up. But this go around she did not seem overwhelmed nearly as much, and was successful. With the rescent change in the question pool it seams like we went back to the complexity level that it once was. I am not complaining just wondering if it may chase away a few people.
    I want to get my grandson licensed. He came close last month he got 21 right on his first try at a VE session in Maume OH. We need to work a bit more and hopefully he will make it next time.


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